Top court unanimously strikes down conviction of pot activist

October 27, 2006

, CJOB Radio (Canada)

CALGARY (CP) - A medical marijuana activist says he is raring to be tried again now that the Supreme Court has overturned his 2003 conviction for pot trafficking.

"I'm very happy the Supreme Court had the good sense to give me a trial, because I do want a trial by my peers," Grant Krieger said in an interview Thursday.

The top court ruled that the Alberta judge who ordered a jury to convict Krieger went too far and violated his rights.

In a 7-0 judgment Thursday, the court overturned the conviction, in effect sending the case back for a new trial - if the Crown chooses to proceed.

Krieger, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, has legal permission from the federal government to smoke pot for medical purposes. He doesn't have permission to supply it to others - but freely admits that he's done so anyway in an effort to ease the pain of serious illness.

"I want another trial here. I want this issue on the table just like (abortion activist Henry) Morgentaler's issue - this has to come out," said Krieger.

"Let the collective conscience speak over this issue and not our laws."

Officials with Alberta Justice weren't immediately available to comment on whether a new trial would be ordered.

If it is, it will mark the third time Krieger faces a jury on the same charge of possession of marijuana for purposes of trafficking.

Krieger has endured a long legal odyssey since he was first charged in 1999 after police seized 29 marijuana plants, the fruit of a grow-op he admitted to maintaining at his Calgary home.

He was acquitted by the first jury to hear the case in 2001, but that verdict was later thrown out by the Alberta Court of Appeal.

At the second trial in 2003, Justice Paul Chrumka of Court of Queen's Bench instructed the jury that they had no choice, based on the evidence in the case and the letter of the law, except to find Krieger guilty.

Two jurors objected and said their consciences wouldn't permit them to convict. They asked to be excused from the case, but the judge refused.

"They had no choice," recalled Krieger. "Two of the jurors asked to be excused because they were crying and they didn't want to convict me - they said I did nothing wrong."

Justice Morris Fish, writing for the unanimous Supreme Court, said Chrumka's actions deprived Krieger of his right to a meaningful jury trial.

"In effect, the trial judge reduced the jury's role to a ceremonial one," wrote Fish. "He ordered the conviction and left to the jury, as a matter of form but not of substance, its delivery in open court."

The judge had the legal discretion to refuse the request by the two jurors to withdraw from deliberations, said Fish. But the way he went about it, and the comments he made, only reinforced the fact that he was ordering them to reach a guilty verdict.

"The jury did not understand that it had the final call on Krieger's guilt or innocence," said Fish.

Krieger said the years of legal battles have taken a toll on his personal life. He and his wife of 25 years are now separated and his family life is a mess. He said he still believes in what he does, but he is not making any money from the marijuana he is distributing to those in need.

"I am just right in the red so much, though, that I and my family don't get along together any more because of the costs I have driven up," he said. "I talk to them maybe every couple of weeks."

While he was awaiting the Supreme Court ruling, Krieger was convicted last month on another two trafficking charges in the Alberta courts. He is scheduled to be sentenced in February.

"I'm looking at mandatory jail time now, but I don't care. I'm not going to stop," Krieger said.

"The only way I'm going to stop is if they give me life in jail."

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